Cave and Cosmos: Shamanic Encounters with Another Reality - Michael Harner 2013


The Cave Again

Walter Cline said something more about power quests. He reported that the Salish Okanagan people made paintings on rock walls of the spirits they had encountered there.1

Why did they make the paintings? The Okanagan elders explained to Cline that “people with strong power” made them as “a kind of advertisement” and “in some vague way” the paintings “assisted the painter to employ his power.”2 The representations were only of “strong creatures.”3 Cline added that children might visit rock paintings in search of power.4 Fathers commonly sent their children alone on power quests to paintings they had made many years earlier. The fathers generally seemed only to give clues about the “power paintings” (my term) and their locations, rather than speaking directly to their sons about them.5 Yet, in one case noted earlier, a father “let his son down by a rope to a cave in a cliff and pulled him up the next morning. During the night in the cave, the boy got Story Rock power, which protected him from all harm.”6 “Story rock” is a term sometimes used by Native North Americans in the West to refer to rocks having paintings. In this case they were also noted as having power. In any event, in these Okanagan instances the intention was to help the children find a protective spirit, ideally one of a father.7

Perhaps it is not coincidental that some twenty-six thousand years ago and on the opposite side of the Earth in France, a child’s footprints were permanently embedded in the now-hardened mud floor of the Upper Paleolithic cave of Chauvet, whose walls are covered with paintings of animals.8 In addition, a survey of footprints in a variety of Upper Paleolithic painted caves concluded that almost all of them were of children.9 The Okanagan elders may have gifted the world with missing links to a greater understanding of the purposes of the ancient cave paintings of Europe.

And why were the Okanagan children on power quests given only indirect clues about their fathers’ paintings and their location? I cannot speak for the Okanagan, nor for people twenty-six millennia ago, but it was traditional knowledge among the Shuar not to tell what you encountered in such a quest until very old. I am now eighty-three, so earlier in this book I told you what happened in the cave when I went questing.

In a sense, this book constitutes my own cave painting for others who come this way, to give them clues for their own power quests. Yet these have only been words. It is up to you, the reader, to enter the hidden reality of spirits and encounter the real thing.